"> Photo: khabarsouthasiaRuma spends much of her time taking care of the household chores as her mother goes out for work early in the morning. She stops going to school because it is far away from her home and her mother does not feel safe to allow her in the busy streets alone.
“I used to go to school in our village, but here in Dhaka it is no more possible. However, I am also quite grown up now. In the slum, people give unusual looks and make comments which frightens me. I feel suffocated living confined whole day in this shabby shack,” said Ruma, a twelve-year-old girl of Hazaribagh slum area in Dhaka.
This is the story of thousands of girl children living in slums. Unfortunately, there is no statistics to put a number on them who are considered as the most vulnerable in the society. We do little care for their distress.
A girl child is the first casualty of a slum. She is born in a sprawl of overcrowded shacks or tenement buildings, and start life on poverty's front line. Hard living conditions thrust her prematurely into adult responsibilities and rob her of the learning processes and joys of childhood. Due to socio-economic factors incidents of neglect, abuse and deprivation incidents are also very common to her life.
Poor rural families migrate to cities seeking greater opportunity. But living in slum, urban advantage of better access remains a myth . Slum families have to sacrifice the education of their children, particularly girls, for meeting the bare minimum costs of food, rent and transport.
Teenage girls in slums very often fall victim to sexual harassment, which leads to stop their going to school or work and compell their helpless parents to marry them off at a tender age.
A baseline study undertaken by ICDDR,B and Population Council in the slums of Mohakhali, Mohammadpur and Jatrabari reveals high rate of child marriage and consistent violation of sexual and reproductive rights of the girls.
A slum girl gets little support from her family against this vulnerability. Another ICDDR,B study titled 'Violence against Unmarried Adolescent Girls in Dhaka Slums'. shows that parents often mistrust and blame girls inappropriately when girls report sexual harassment on the streets.
The UNICEF report titled 'The State of the World's Children-2012' found that there are five sorts of deprivations the slum children face: access to improved water, access to improved sanitation, security of tenure, durability of housing and sufficient living area. Girl children are the worst sufferers of these deprivations.
The poor sanitary condition along with poor water quality is a serious health risk for girl children. The poor condition makes them vulnerable to various types of infections and water borne diseases, particularly adolescents. Generally health infrastructure is very poor in slum areas, so arrangements for adolescent girls' access to reproductive health services is almost non-existent.
In the dense urban situation it is difficult to find place for private toilet. So often there are a common toilet shared by many slum dwellers with very little privacy. This exposed latrine is a nagging privacy issue for grown up girls.
While living in slum, many girls have boldly come forward to change their world. Dolly Akhtar is one of them. Dolly and her friends have encouraged and sensitised their neighbour about washing hands after defecation and before eating, using sanitary latrines and drinking only clean, covered water. Their efforts result in improved hygiene behaviours and new latrines in the neighbourhood. Boosted with spirit of remarkable success now they are taking on other issues such child marriage. We need more Dollys. They just need a positive environment to grow to their full potential.
The writer is Editorial Assistant, The Daily Star.